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Publishing Program at Portland State University

In early 2014, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Master of Science in Writing: Book Publishing Program at Portland State University (PSU). I quit my day-job, moved from Alaska to Oregon, and started the program in fall 2014. That particular move was a whirlwind, by the way—driving down to Oregon with my car packed tight and two howling cats in the back—but thankfully my mom came with me to help.

The publishing program at PSU was an amazing opportunity. I’ve been a booklover since I knew how to read, but I was also an editor with my own freelance business and a writer penning science fiction and fantasy. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be surrounded by book nerds like me and learn about the publishing business as a whole.

First Years
Kellie Doherty (third from left)

The master’s degree was two full years of study, but it could be more if you needed or less if you dared. (I knew a girl who finished the program in a year and half!) The classwork was separated into the different fields within a publishing house—like marketing, design, editing, social media, etc.—so we got experience and knowledge in each. We had publishing professionals, like literary agents and copyeditors, visit our classrooms and went on publishing-related field trips, like going to Powell’s to review book covers for the design class. Our classes were led by experts in the field, too, like the amazing director of the publishing program, Per Henningsgaard.

The program had a lot of networking opportunities built into it, as well. We had author events to go to, local conferences to table at, and went to panels the publishing program hosted. During my final semester I even got to attend the insanely popular AWP Conference & Bookfair, representing my master’s program. (It was a huge deal.) Students would often land internships with local publishing houses, and that’s how I got to intern with Ripple Grove Press! (See my interview with RGP and their thoughts on fantasy in children’s book publishing here.)

PSU (sign)

So, the grad program sounds pretty amazing, right? Yes, it does. But it gets even better!

One of the best parts of the master’s program—and the reason why I chose to go to PSU—was Ooligan Press, the student-run publishing house connected to the publishing program. That’s right, students who pursued a master’s degree in publishing actually ran a real-life publishing house! We had our rockstar publisher Abbey Gaterud, who had the final say in everything (and basically made sure we noobs didn’t burn the place to the ground) but she delegated a lot of the work to the project managers (around ten–fifteen second year students) who then delegated work to their teams (first year students). Ooligan Press is a not-for-profit general trade publishing house celebrating the Pacific Northwest that also hosts events, like Write to Publish and Transmit Culture.

Table with books

As you can imagine, it was a crash course in publishing and allowed me the rare opportunity to get hands-on experience in each of the fields I had been learning about. We did everything from start to finish—solicited, reviewed and edited manuscripts; designed the covers and interiors; created marketing plans and social media outreach; pitched events; etc. (I could go on—there is a TON that goes into publishing a book.)

In my first year, I was on the Write to Publish 2015 team and got to help the project managers create and run a huge publishing event! (Write to Publish is the annual fundraising conference for the press that helps demystify the publishing process.) During my second year in the program, I applied for and landed the Write to Publish project manager position, and with my amazing co-manager Chelsea Lobey, we crafted Write to Publish 2016. We did everything—lead the teams, found a location, obtained panelists and speakers and vendors, designed the day-of events, crafted the marketing push, lead the event the day of, etc.—and I’m happy to say it was a success! It was also the first time I was ever the project manager of something so important, and I was thrilled to have that opportunity to grow my wings and gain more confidence as a leader.

Chelsea and I also got to take the lead on a specialized book called Comin’ In Over the Rock that was kind of like a freelance project for the press. Collectively we did a light copyedit, interior design, and a proofread of the manuscript. I’m so grateful that I got to work on a book project during my time at Ooligan Press, and Comin’ In Over the Rock was such a fun one. Holding it in my hands after it was published was a surreal experience. 

Coming Over the Rock (cover)

I can’t stress enough how amazing this master’s program was, one that opened my eyes to the world of publishing and fueled my ever-growing passion for books. If you are at all interested in pursuing a graduate program in book publishing, seriously consider PSU. If not, go check out Ooligan Press anyway and tilt your hat at my old alma mater. You’ll definitely find some outstanding reads!

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Have you completed a master’s program in writing? An undergraduate degree? A doctorate? Have you done a workshop to hone your craft? Or just taken some classes here and there when you could? We’d love to hear about the programs near you, whether you are a student or a teacher. Let us know about your success stories and favorites in the comments!

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